For many young immigrants who are now lawfully present under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative—which grants them the right to work and live in the United States for at least two years—the next question may be, when will they be able to travel outside of the United States? Depending on what guidance they reference, the answer could vary, adding confusion to what has been a reasonably straightforward implementation process.
To be eligible for DACA, an individual must have entered the U.S. before their 16th birthday and have continuously resided here since June 15, 2007. As a result, by definition, many DACA recipients haven’t left the U.S. in years. And, given the uncertainty associated with their undocumented status – and the fear that if they leave they may not be able to return – many DACA recipients haven’t left since first arriving here. Many young immigrants hoped this new status would allow them to safely and legally travel to visit family members, or pursue educational and cultural opportunities with the confidence that they would be allowed to re-enter the U.S. upon their return. As the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) begins to implement the process for travel outside of the U.S., it is becoming clear that DACA recipients’ ability to travel may be unnecessarily restricted by shortsighted policies.
The Administration has outlined its position regarding travel for DACA recipients in two places: 1) the proposed application form for a travel document with accompanying instructions where USCIS describes the process for obtaining an “advance parole” travel document and 2) the DACA FAQs.
The advance parole travel document allows an otherwise inadmissable immigrant, such as a DACA applicant, to seek authorization to re-enter, or be paroled, into the United States prior to his or her departure from the United States. In essence, it is a promise by USCIS, with some limitations, that a person will be allowed back into the U.S. after traveling abroad.
Though the proposed form and instructions have not yet been finalized, they suggest that USCIS is planning to adopt a restrictive policy with respect to advance parole for these young people. Specifically, the instructions state that a DACA recipient may travel only for “humanitarian, educational, and employment” purposes. While these terms may appear to encompass a wide range of reasons for travel, the “humanitarian” category is limited to medical and health emergencies, such as attending a family funeral service or visiting an ailing relative. Thus, the acceptable reasons for travel do not include what is arguably an extremely important and equally legitimate humanitarian reason to travel: the opportunity to connect with family members, i.e., a family wedding, birth, baptism or countless other family-related reasons.
The DACA FAQ seems to be offering a more generous definition of when it’s acceptable for a grantee to travel than what the proposed form is offering. They state that USCIS may determine whether travel is “justifiable based on the circumstances” described by the applicant. They also state that DACA applicants will “generally” only receive advance parole to travel for humanitarian, educational and employment purposes, thereby not rejecting other potential reasons for travel out of hand.
The more generous DACA FAQ should be the basis for the final Advance Parole application. In this spirit, the Legal Action Center, American Immigration Lawyers Association and Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. submitted comments to USCIS, encouraging the agency to bring the application form and instructions in line with the FAQs and to broaden the acceptable reasons for travel.
The DACA initiative was implemented to encourage young undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and claim a semblance of a normal life. Let’s hope USCIS reconciles its advance parole policies to allow young immigrants to add ‘travel’ to their list of newly gained liberties.